I once heard a man conclude his 83th birthday speech saying that “The ultimate aim in life is happiness”. His statement had me thinking that night. Is happiness really “the” aim in life?
I gave it some thoughts and realised there might be some truth to his penchant for happiness. Look at it this way – If you were to ask enough times why something is important to you, chances are you will eventually end up with the same answer – so that you will be happy.
Why do I work so hard at my job? So that I can get that promotion. Why? So that I can feel the sense of accomplishment and make more money. Why? So that I enjoy the finer things in life. Why? So that I can be happy!
Why do I get up so early in the morning to exercise? So that I have a healthier body. Why? So that I am stronger and look fitter. Why? So that I play better sports and feel more confident about myself. Why? Because it makes me feels good, and… happy!
Happiness is desireable and it does matters. Now, how can we get this happiness constantly? Too bad that birthday-man left the stage without elaborating on this.
So I decided to spend some time to think about my happiness and how I can have more of it in my own life. With a little research and evaluation on my past experiences, I was able to somewhat quantify them into 5 ways.
1 – Take ownership control
My happiness is my responsibility. Period. The first step towards a happier me is to acknowledge that I and I alone are in charge of my happiness. It all starts and ends with me.
The tendency is to put the blame on others every time something goes wrong. ‘My son spilled his milk again.’, ‘Bad traffic made me late for my appointment.’
Sure, things can happen and it may not be my fault. I may not have caused it. But I should not put the blame of my unhappiness on others too. My happiness from these situations will largely stem from how I think and how I respond.
So how can I take control of my happiness?
Awareness is the state of knowing your own feelings and ability to assess what you are capable of. This involves being able to understand your emotions and what triggers them.
So awareness is a good starting point to be happier today. Be aware always that happiness is something I choose for yourself. Every time I start to drift off, I should get a grip of the negative feelings and address it appropriately.
2 – Count the blessings
Gratitude makes us happier. I won’t go into statistic but the fact that you are reading this in the comfort of your chair shows that you already have much to be grateful for. I am grateful that I am healthy, that I have a family th at loves me, that I have the ability to earn and enjoy comforts in life.
Research shows that gratitude is good for you. It reduces anxiety and depression, helps you become more positive, strengthens your relationships with others, and encourages compassion. It also has been shown to increase your feelings of happiness.
Every time I think that life is tough and there are no reasons to be happy, I shall think of the many individuals that don’t get a chance to make it as far as I did. Poverty, famines, disease and droughts claim thousands of lives each year. Many don’t get a chance with proper education and many others struggle to put food on their tables.
Happy people know that they don’t get to be happy all the time. They can appreciate bright moments, little victories, small miracles and the positive encounters that bring real happiness.
I shall remember not to put focus on material things either. The path of continual happiness does not come from the latest gadget or a fancy car. Things will come and they will get old or obselete. Material joys seldom last. Happiness does not have to be derived from things.
Money and things will not make you happy. They will make you comfortable, but not buy you happiness. Happiness is beyond that. Happiness is a state of mind. It is generated from within. It starts and ends with you.
3 – Find your element
When you were seven and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, anything seemed possible. Fireman. Doctor. Soldier. Astronaut. Your answers then were guided by what you thought would make you really happy. There were no limits.
But for many of us, as the years go by, we begin to let our dreams peeled away. We settled and allowed our conditions and surroundings to shape us into what was not meant to be.
Research suggests that when you are living your life and making choices that are in line with your values, you’re likely to feel happier.
That is why of late I am spending more time thinking and reflecting on what is important and meaningful in my life. When were the times that I felt happiest or most satisfied and what were common factors in those situations.
For example you may be unhappy now at the office. This dissatisfaction with your job can be traced back to a mismatch in core values. If your company doesn’t value the same things you do, you will feel unhappy even if you like your work.
4 – Give them away
Start being generous with your time and money: research shows that you will be happier for it.
In their book The Paradox of Generosity, sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson found that Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of 5.8 hours per month. Those who are “unhappy”? Just 0.6 hours. A total of 2,000 individuals were surveyed over a five-year period in this study. Researchers interviewed and tracked the spending habits and lifestyles of 40 families from different classes and races in 12 states, even accompanying some to the grocery store.
If giving is good for you, why aren’t more people generous? After all you could be generous in your own way and at your level. I did some hard thinking and realized that I was actually afraid. Afraid?! Yes, afraid that it would be a loss. Afraid that if I gave money away or devoted my time, I would be losing something. So I have not been as generous as I could be because in part I was ignorant, but more so I was feeling fear and insecurity.
Now I understand that generosity will benefit me and not just other people.
We may think that we can only be generous once we have make it or made enough if money. This is a fallacy for that day may never come. It is in our nature that when we have more, we will want more.
Therefore the idea is to start giving your time and money to those in need today. You don’t have to look very far. Start with your immediate circle of family and friends, your workplace and then your surrounding community.
Be kind to your spouse. Spring clean your wardrobe; give away clothes that you have not been wearing. How about treating your co-workers lunch? Any non-profits in your community that you can volunteer your time or contribute money to? Look around, and you will start finding opportunities for you to get generous.
Start small and you should be happier immediately.
5 – Do something fun
Indulging in what is fun to you will make you happy. What would you do if you have some time off?
Whatever it is, carve out some time for your hobbies. Don’t go for a big hobby project that requires consideration time off and money yet. Go for the easy wins immediately, hobbies that do not have to take away a big chunk of your time. Plan and book it on your calendar so that you can indulge it without guilt.
I enjoy movies but I have always been bombarded with the feeling that watching movies is a waste of time. Often I would watch a movie (because I just enjoy a nice action flick) and feel horrible afterwards because three hours have passed. A good three hours which I could have done something more productive with.
Another important thing is you have to be able to choose the activities that are personally meaningful in order to make a difference in experience level. The ability to choose is very important for happiness.
The next time you are feeling down, try taking a break and have a little walk. Get outside, enjoy some fresh air. Travel to a new place. Visit the museum. Go to a concert. Studies have also shown that the feeling of wonderment and amazement can promote happiness and well-being. Depending on your interest, this overwhelming positive feeling can be derived from going on a beautiful hike, visiting a natural wonder, looking at masterpiece of art, or listening to an incredible piece of music. Once in a while, indulge in activities that will impress and even excite you.
At the end of the day we all know that it is easier said than done. Although I have been putting the above 5 ideas to work, I am still facing my fair share of struggles. Life will always come with challenges and there will always be fill ups and downs.
Nevertheless it is important to know that your life is sprinkled with ample opportunities for discovering happiness. Look for the little things that will make you happy.
Being happy is and will always be, a choice.